We all get anxious – before a big presentation, when a loved one becomes ill, if we experience financial difficulties, etc. These are all situations that provoke feelings of anxiety. But what happens when anxiety stops being a temporary reaction and transforms into a permanent state?

The psychiatric definition of anxiety is “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” While feelings of worry and fret are valid, they are also considered “normal.” Certain situations arouse feelings of anxiety in everyone, but not everyone experiences feelings of constant anxiety.

So, how do you know if you have an anxiety disorder? The signs and symptoms of diagnosable anxiety run the gamut; but they can be categorized into three main groups: physical, psychological, and behavioral.

What are the physical signs of anxiety?

  • Muscle tension
  • Chronic indigestion and stomach problems
  • Quickened breathing and tightened chest
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep problems

What are the psychological signs of anxiety?

  • Excessive worry
  • Irrational fears
  • Perfectionism
  • Catastrophizing
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Trouble concentrating

What are the behavioral signs of anxiety?

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Inability to work or study
  • Self-consciousness
  • Irritability
  • Constantly on edge

If you suffer from anxiety, you may notice that you experience some but not all of the above feelings. The ones you do experience probably affect you severely. Anxiety is one of the most prominent mental disorders in our society and can be broken into a variety of categories. The following may help you to better narrow down which type of anxiety you struggle with.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is probably what you typically think of when you hear the term “anxiety disorder.” GAD is characterized by excessive worry and concern for no apparent reason. Smaller things that wouldn’t cause stress in most people become a big deal for people who struggle with generalized anxiety. When the symptoms are mild, people with GAD can lead a normal and functioning life but may have constant feelings of overwhelming anxiety in the back of their minds. However, some people with GAD have trouble performing simple daily tasks and their disorder is an interruption to their lifestyle.

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a “sudden intense fear reaction accompanied by heart pounding, sweating, and difficulty breathing.” People who experience panic attacks often describe them as a feeling of losing complete control. Their intensity range is so high that often times they’re mistaken for a heart attack. The symptoms are similar as well: shaking, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and an accelerated heart rate. Oftentimes, panic attacks happen without warning. This leads the person struggling with them to live in constant fear of when the next panic attack may occur, leading to even more increased anxiety.

Phobias

A diagnosable phobia is different from jumping when you see a snake or are feeling a little uneasy on the 18th floor of a building. A phobia is “an excessive and irrational fear reaction” that is often accompanied by a deep sense of dread when encountering the phobia. Similar to GAD, there is a range for those who suffer from a phobia disorder. Some people are able to realize that their fear is irrational and are therefore able to appropriately deal with it. Others, however, cannot draw this conclusion and their intense fear can interrupt their daily life, work, and relationships.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is more than just having a shy or timid personality. It can be crippling and often causes people to miss out on big parts of their life. Most of the time, social anxiety will stem from an intense fear of judgment by others. The self-consciousness is so obtrusive that it leads to avoidance. For people who experience a social anxiety disorder, the anxiety doesn’t go away. For example, it’s normal to be anxious on a first date or meeting a significant other’s family for the first time; but generally, the feelings of anxiety lessen throughout the experience. For those who suffer from social anxiety, however, the feelings are persistent or may even grow throughout the event.

If one of these anxiety disorders sounds like what you’re going through, don’t worry. You’re not destined to suffer for the rest of your life. Make an appointment with a counselor. Together, you and your counselor will develop a plan to treat your anxiety. Your counselor will provide you with the tools you need to succeed. A calmer, more peaseful life is ahead of you.